The movie Twelve Angry Men begins with an eighteen-year-old boy from the ghetto who is on trial for the murder of his abusive father. A jury of twelve men is locked in the deliberation room to decide the fate of the young boy.
All evidence is against the boy and a guilty verdict would send him to die in the electric chair. The judge informs the jurors that they are faced with a grave decision and that the court would not entertain any acts of mercy for the boy if found guilty.
Even before the deliberation talks begin it is apparent most of the men are certain the boy is guilty. However, when the initial poll is taken Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) registers a shocking “not guilty” vote; Immediately the room is in an uproar.
The rest of the jury resents the inconvenience of his decision. After questioning his sanity they hastily decide to humor juror #8 (Henry Fonda) by agreeing to discuss the trial for one hour. Eventually, as the talks proceed juror #8 slowly undermines their confidence by saying that the murder weapon is widely available to anyone and that the testimony of the key witness is suspect.
Gradually they are won over by his arguments and even the most narrow-minded of his fellow jurors hesitantly agrees with him. Their verdict is now a solid not guilty.
Arriving at a unanimous not guilty verdict does not come easily. The jury encounters many difficulties in learning to communicate and deal with each other. What seems to be a decisive guilty verdict as deliberations begin, slowly becomes a questionable “not sure”. Although the movie deals with issues relating to the process of effective communication this paper will focus on two reasons why they encounter difficulties and how they overcome them.
First, we will apply the Johari grid theory and see how it applies to their situation. Then, we will see how each individual’s frame of reference and prejudices affect their perception which causes difficulties in the communication process.
If we analyze the Johari grid of each juror we see a large hidden area in the case of all of the men. Take into consideration, each man is referred to by a juror number, they do not even have the benefit of knowing each other’s names. These men have never talked before. Each of them comes from different situations with individual and unique experiences.
The public area consists solely of the shared information provided during the trial. Their hidden area is immense, resulting in an equally large blind area. The public, hidden, and blind areas are relatively the same for each juror before beginning the deliberation. It is the size of the unconscious area that will differ more among the men.
We will see how the contents of the unconscious area will largely affect the decision-making process of some of the jurors. The information contained in the unconscious area is unrecognized, it is often the most difficult to overcome.
Henry Fonda’s (Juror #8) interpersonal style would be classified as open-receptive. He levels with the others by openly admitting that he does not know if the boy killed his father and solicits feedback in order to make an accurate decision.
He says “I just don’t think we should send a boy off to die without at least talking about it first.” The example he set encourages the others to level and be open to receive feedback. The movie illustrates the process of leveling and soliciting feedback which can make all the difference.
The character with the largest hidden window is the boy on trial. Realizing this, Henry Fonda (Juror #8) tries to put himself in the boy’s shoes to gain a better understanding of his situation. “The poor boy has been beaten on the head once a day, every day since he was five years old!” and, “I think if I were the boy, I’d get myself a better lawyer…He didn’t stand a chance in there.” In this case, one can only speculate as to the contents of the boy’s hidden area. The important factor is his desire to comprehend the boy’s feelings.
One man, in particular, Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb) has a sizable unconscious area. He has a troubled relationship with his own son that preoccupies his thoughts. This is alluded to in a conversation between juror #7 (Jack Warden) and himself. Looking at a picture of him and his son, he says “Haven’t’ seen him in two years, kids, you work your heart out…” then he abruptly stops.
The broken relationship with his son preoccupies his thoughts several times throughout the movie; he is found staring at the picture. His interpersonal style would be classified as a blabbermouth. He is neither open nor receptive. He has his opinion and loves to share it. The net result is a large blind area.
He is unwilling or unable to level with others and is also unreceptive to any feedback. Most likely the extent of these feelings and the effect it has on his perceptions is unconscious to him. Eventually, he finds himself the only one maintaining a vote of guilty. He feels his sense of reality is in question and it threatens him. This puts him on the defensive.
He bursts, accusing the others of being crazy. This emotional eruption changes from bitterness & anger to sadness and understanding. His defenses start to crumble as his unconscious emotions become visible to him. By recognizing his unconscious emotions, essentially what he has done is level with himself. Once he did this he realized the anger and frustration with regards to his son has been misdirected toward the accused. With a new understanding of himself, he is able to change his vote to not guilty.
Another issue dealt with in the movie is prejudice. Prejudice is defined as premature judgment or bias. In a trial, situation Jurors are asked to only consider the evidence presented to them. Individual biases are not expected to affect the decision-making process.
Unfortunately, leaving our prejudices outside the courtroom door is near impossible. As the movie demonstrates prejudice can distort our views and greatly affects our ability to make accurate assessments.
Strong prejudice is displayed by Juror #10 (Ed Begley) as he bursts into a rage while referring to people from the ghetto, “Look you know these people lie, it’s born in them…they don’t need any real reason to kill someone…they get drunk all the time, all of them, and bang! someone’s lying in the gutter…Oh, nobody’s blaming them for it.
That’s the way they are! By nature! You know what I mean? VIOLENT!”. He even goes on by saying “they are no good, not one of them’s any good.” It is doubtful Ed Begley could see past his prejudice in order to hear the evidence in the trial. His guilty vote is cast as soon as he learns about the boy’s disadvantaged life in the slums.
While most of the men are aware of the stigma attached to people from the ghetto they are willing to try to put the stereotype aside. His outburst has caused quite a disturbance in the room. This disturbance serves two purposes. First, it provides the “not guilty” defenders with an understanding that his prejudice is the reason for his opposition.
It is always easier to overcome an objection if you know what it is. Having this knowledge allows for more productive communication, thereby convincing him that he should change his vote. Secondly, it allows him to vent his frustrations. In doing so, he realizes the power of his emotions which forces him to step back and take a look at what he really feels.
The look on his face shows he has a realization. For the first time, he understands his prejudices have affected his perceptions. This new understanding of himself enables him to think more clearly and objectively.
It is interesting that the most damning evidence is the testimony provided by an eyewitness to the murder who is also a member of the boy’s slum community. Yet the boy, a product of the same community is an assumed liar. Henry Fonda (Juror #8) points out the double standard to the others when he says “she’s one of them too?” Juror #5 (Jack Klugman) responds to the negative comments by informing them that he too is from the ghetto.
“Listen” he says “I’ve lived in a slum all my life, I’ve played in back yards that were filled with garbage, maybe you can still smell it on me.” Another gentleman tells him “let’s not be so sensitive, he didn’t mean you.” Pointing out these double standards undermine the confidence of the jurors whose votes stemmed from pre-judging.
As the movie closes the not guilty verdict is handed down. It is not known if the boy is guilty or innocent, that will forever remain in his hidden area. Henry Fonda (Juror #8) entered the trial with an open mind, he managed to convince the others to do the same. The movie illustrates that everything is not what it appears to be. Being aware of this is the first step to better understanding.
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